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Helsinki Commission Letter to President Kwasniewski

July 18, 2002

H.E. Aleksandr Kwasniewski
Republic of Poland
Warsaw, Poland

Dear Mr. President:

As Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, we are honored by your visit to our nation’s Capitol. We are deeply grateful for the solidarity you and your countrymen and women have shown the United States since the September 11 attacks on our country.

We understand that, in the decade since Poland has emerged from the yoke of communism, your country has successfully met many challenges. We urge you to tackle one more, a matter of great importance and urgency: the need for a non-discriminatory law governing restitution or compensation of private property confiscated from individuals by the Nazi or communist regimes in Poland.

The Commission has held a series of hearings on the issue of property restitution in Central and Eastern Europe. Property restitution in Poland is an important matter for thousands of people who fled to the United States because of religious, ethnic or political persecution in Poland during or after the Second World War.

On behalf of these individuals, we urge your government to carry through with its previously stated commitment to enact a fair, non-discriminatory property restitution law. Such a law is necessary to enable the return of private property confiscated or, when the actual return of property is not possible, to provide alternative compensation to rightful owners. In particular, any law which excludes from restitution or compensation persons who no longer have Polish citizenship or residence is discriminatory.

We appreciate that a small number of property claimants have pursued restitution claims in Polish courts, but this is simply not an adequate alternative. First, the legal basis by which property can currently be reclaimed is so limited as to exclude the vast majority of rightful owners. Second, while some Polish officials have urged claimants to rely on the judiciary, governmental entities which stand to lose possession of claimed properties in a legal proceeding have unreasonably delayed such proceedings and challenged decisions made in favor of claimants, many of whom are elderly and hampered by limited resources with which to battle government bureaucracies. Finally, as in many other countries in the region, Polish courts have often allowed proceedings to drag on for years and ultimately failed to resolve cases in a manner that results in the restitution. Under such circumstances, the need for a property restitution law is both clear and compelling.

Since 1989, the Republic of Poland has established itself as a model for free and democratic societies in Eastern Europe. While we are disappointed that Poland has delayed so long in addressing property restitution, we hope that, when a law is passed, it will not be marred by the problems seen in other countries – problems such as discriminatory citizenship or residency requirements and the failure to faithfully implement the laws according to their terms and in a timely fashion.

For individuals with ties to Central and Eastern Europe, the restitution of property is not ultimately about land or money, but about obtaining a measure of justice for the oppression and persecution they and their families suffered under previous regimes and an acknowledgment of the wrong done to them through the expropriation of property. We urge you to support the non-discriminatory restitution or compensation of property to individuals, as well as ethnic and religious groups. Sincerely,


Benjamin L. Cardin, M.C.

Christopher H. Smith, M.C.

Steny H. Hoyer, M.C.
Ranking Member

Frank R. Wolf, M.C.
CommissionerHillary Rodham Clinton, U.S.S.

Sam Brownback, U.S.S.
CommissionerLouise McIntosh Slaughter, M.C.

Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.
Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.

Zach Wamp, M.C.
CommissionerJoseph Crowley, M.C.

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